Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Creativity not violence

I spent much of the weekend grieving about the Sandy Hook ES shootings. Then a skit on Saturday Night Live, an adult parody of "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," pushed a little of my sadness into a meditation on why some angry and/or crazy males turn to guns, while others turn to art.

Biographies of Charles Schultz paint him as a man who "specialised in making art out of angst," who "grudgingly held on to every indignity and insult he ever received and used them later on to fuel his strip"—including experiences beyond his awkward childhood. This transformation of bitterness into the long-running "Peanuts" comic strip (and all related TV shows and licensed products) made Schultz a rich and famous man, exacting the best possible revenge on the childhood peers who ignored him.

Such angst has played out again and again in other lives and bedrooms. It has fueled heavy metal and moody goth songs, crude cartoons and abstract paintings. The lucky boys find guitars or paints or pens or cameras or street dancing. They may not be good enough to make a living at it, but it gives them an outlet, it lets them use their anger (and their vibrancy) for something that, if not beautiful or the highest art, at least causes no damage to anyone else.

What I see a lot of now, though, are groups of teenagers (or, worse, single teenagers) playing video games where they spend hours shooting aliens and "enemies." Hours and hours not out in the sunlight, not laughing or being goofy, not making something with their hands—with only a single purpose to garner as many "kills" as possible.

I am not calling for a ban on video games (what's the use of that?). But I would like to see some kind of cultural shift where young men are encouraged to be creative and expressive, especially in groups. Right now, teenage boys who are not gifted at sports have almost no other group activity they can engage in outside of school other than video games. Organizations like Guitars Not Guns aim to "encourage children and teens to use their creativity to foster personal development and to help divert them from self-destructive influences." But their intention is on at-risk youth, not alienated white suburban teenagers.

I propose this as something that can be discussed outside of the current debate about gun control. I am not sure any of this would have prevented the Sandy Hook shooter (I won't use his name) from doing what he did. How much more heroic and life-affirming had he instead just scrawled bad poetry in composition books or strummed amateurish rock songs. I wish somehow I could praise him, and others like him, for doing that instead. And, yes, I understand that he was mentally ill. But mental illness has not kept some artists from creating beautiful things. The autistic knitter created interesting and gorgeous yarn creations. Her handiwork is housed in a museum, not a morgue.

No comments: